Alternative Version, demo, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Rollin’ and Tumblin’

What’s in a name? They may have been The Rolling Stones to plummy BBC announcers and chummy American TV hosts, but by the ’70s, they’d fallen mononymously into just the Stones; a name that suited the music that would come to define them.

The Rolling Stones was all about frantically scrubbed Bo Diddley rhythms and snake-hipped shaken maracas, three minutes of pop r’n’b that when played with a pout made the front row wet their knickers. As the principal players slowed down the gear changes in inverse proportion to the length of their songs and the length of their already-collar bothering hair, they became The Stones; dangerous, devious and undeniably dynamite.

Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone? asked Andrew Loog Oldham in the ’60s? No chance, mister. And there was absolutely no chance you’d want her anywhere near a skinny, sexed-up and strung-out Stone a short handful of years later. No chance at all.

There’s a guitar alchemy in the Stones that you’ll find in no other band since or ever. It’s all over Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street like A-class-enhanced quicksilver; a fluid melding together of Mick Taylor’s straightforward yet beautifully executed 6 string bluesisms and the loose riffing of Micawber, Keith Richards’ mangled Telecaster, bastardised to just 5 strings and tuned to open G.

Mick’s guitar sounded like this, Keith’s guitar sounded like that…and when they played together, they created an unattainable third sound; a new, harmonious chord full of air and promise, a new feel, a new something; magical, otherworldly and impossible to replicate. Sure, anyone can have the tools, but only Mick and Keith had the talent, the telepathy and the feel. (Well, later on, Ronnie would come to disprove that theory, but let’s not let that get in the way of things for now). And it’s only Mick and Keef (that’s the other Mick, the more famous Stone) who have the know-how to turn the rough stuff into polished diamonds.

The StonesTumbling Dice

My favourite Stones track will always be Tumbling Dice. It’s got everything; telepathic guitars, horns, soul, swagger, groove. That slinky, double-stringed opening riff is suitably louche and rakish, a setting out of the stall like no other.

As Keith is wont to do, he had been toying with the riff and feel of the track for a year, leaving it aside, allowing it to stew and marinade in the swill of Stones’ rehearsals, coming back to it time and again until the Stones found themselves avoiding tax in the south of France when, by this point, it was a tune ripe for recording. Initial versions were faster, less-focused and featured a hackneyed Jagger vocal that he’d be quick to abandon.

The StonesGood Time Woman (Tumbling Dice early version)

The whole of Exile On Main Street is a masterclass in studied looseness and the session track above plus the finished Tumbling Dice is the epitome of this. It might appear ragged and funky, but that sure takes a lot of practise. And alcohol. And drugs. And beautiful women wherever you turn. To have been a Stone in ’72…

Keith plays it initially with a gentle touch, feeling his way in with the opening riff until his band arrives – a decidely unusual version of the Stones for once. There was no Bill Wyman for starters. He’d gone AWOL somewhere in the south of France, fed up while the others worked all night and slept all day. He’d be back, just not in time to add his signature to what would become the lead single from Exile On Main Street. Bass duties were taken instead by Mick Taylor. To compensate for lack of rhythm guitar, Jagger himself was encouraged to get on board. Once they’re locked in and zoned out, Keith plays harder. Charlie follows, swinging the groove with understated power. And Keith plays harder again. Chugga-chugga-chugga. It’s rock’s most famous (some might say cliched) riff, played exactly the way you’ve been trying to master it since it first kissed your ears. Five strings, open G, remember.

The Stones worked up the slack rhythm track in Nellcôte, their rented French villa, but it wouldn’t be until Jagger had a random conversation with his housekeeper in L.A. about gambling that he’d have a lyric he was happy with. Dropping the ‘good time woman‘ lyric of the initial version, Jagger instead compares the sins of gambling to the sins of cheating and creates a lyric in simpatico to the music.

By the time Exile… was released, the Stones had overdubbed Atlantic soul brass courtesy of honourable Stone, Bobby Keys and piano, courtesy of the ubiquitous Nicky Hopkins. The ace in the pack was the three-girl choir, sashaying in on a riot of “ooooh-yeahs” and harmonised “bay-bees”. They duet with Jagger throughout, he rubbery, with a mouthful of mid Atlantic Cockney vowels – “yeo caaahn be mah paaaa-tnah ein cra-ah-aha-ahm” – and they stately and majestic, just on the right side of controlled.

Factor in the dueling guitars, the breath-gathering drop-out, the slide part that I’m not even sure is there but sounds like it is and you have one of the very best – the very best, if y’ask me – Stones’ tracks. Not Rolling Stones. Stones.




Cover Versions, demo, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Kings, Queens & Other Chess Pieces

I meant to mark this occasion and put something up last week, but the RJ Ellory post (below) took over slightly. A week later, it would be churlish of me not to give a nod and a wink to that creaky old juggernaut that keeps limping on, like your smelly old dog with 3 good legs that’s deaf in one ear and blind in the only eye it has left. Aye,The Rolling Stones as a rock and roll group have now been in the game for no less than 50 years. That surely makes them one of the oldest musical acts still going strong. The Four Tops still do the odd show here and there (mainly ‘there’, in Vegas), and from 1953 until the death of Lawrence Payton in 1997 managed to keep the original line-up intact. The Drifters started in the 50s, but most (or all?) of the originals have, cough, drifted off. They probably played 5 shows last night anywhere between Blackpool Butlins and the Bermuda Triangle, so you can’t really count them. The Stones survive with 3 original members (Mick, Keith and Charlie, who actually joined after their first gig, see image at the bottom) and with Ronnie Wood having been in the band longer than The Fall have been a going concern. And how many members have they gone through in that time, eh? (Answer: about 66, at the last count).

Nowadays, they’re a bit more creased around the edges and a bit more expensive of cloth (though evidently, unlike most men of their age (and 10, 20, 30 years younger), no more expansive of waist). Sure, they’re a whole lot less vital than they once were, their live shows still trade on their Golden Era (early 60s – mid 70s, if you need to ask) and nowadays they’re a brand not a band – you can buy their merchandise in Primark if you fancy! But, as you already know, the Stones were totally, absolutely, dynamite in their heyday.

Chess Studios, 1964.

There’s a famous story (not an urban myth, as Keith goes at great lengths to point out in his autobiography) that when they turned up midway through their first US tour to record at the famous old Chess Studios, band hero Muddy Waters (he wrote I’m A Rollin’ Stone) was painting the outside of the building, whitewash streaming down his face, only stopping to help Bill Wyman in with his amplifier from car to studio. It didn’t matter that Muddy was a legend to the Stones and all those other Thames Delta blues bands, in his homeland he had yet to make that leap from unfashionable unknown to undeniable blues great. As Keith astutely notes, “If you want to stay on the payroll, get to work.”

Chess Studios, 1964

The stuff that the band recorded at Chess in 1964 was brilliant – Keith says 14 tracks in 2 days, my bootleg has 27, including their version of Bobby Womack’s It’s All Over Now that gave them their first number 1. Organic and rootsy, deep-rooted in the blues, the music has a big, booming, beefy sound, all reverb and twang and feral snap. Most of the recordings they made there for a potential album remain unreleased to this day (Google 2120 Michigan Avenue. Go on!) and it knocks spots off of anything that their sha-la-la, she-loves-me-and-I-love-her contemporaries were tossing off into the Hit Parade. But you knew that already…

The Tunes:

The Rolling StonesIt’s All Over Now

The Rolling Stones2120 South Michigan Avenue

The Rolling StonesTime Is On My Side (version 2)

The Rolling StonesDon’t You Lie To Me

The Rolling StonesStewed & Keefed

The Rolling StonesThe Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man

The Originals:

Bobby WomackIt’s All Over Now

Irma ThomasTime Is On My Side